At the end of the first, second and third quarters, junior Ryan Ingarozza recycled the same positive message to his Smithtown East teammates as he approached the bench: "This is anyone's game.''
Smithtown East trailed Eastport-South Manor after the second and third quarters, and then Patrick Riccio did something about that.
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Riccio totaled 14 points, including three big three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and Ingarozza had 18 points as host Smithtown East defeated ESM, 49-43, Wednesday night in a Class AA outbracket game.
"Making threes is my role on this team, and I worked hard all season to help in that department,'' said Riccio, a senior. "We didn't make the playoffs last season, so this is a wonderful feeling right now.''
Smithtown East (11-8) will visit Deer Park at 5 p.m. tomorrow in a first-round playoff matchup. ESM finished 11-8.
Before Wednesday night's's game, Smithtown East coach Lou Gambeski predicted an evenly matched game and had a take similar to Ingarozza's. "This will all come down to who wants it for us and who shows up,'' Gambeski said.
With his constant diving for loose balls and tenacious rebounding, Ingarozza proved to be one of the guys for the job. Off the court, too.
"We weren't hitting our shots early, but I told our seniors at halftime to not let this be their last game,'' Ingarozza said. "And now it is not our last because we played very hard and Pat hit some really big threes."
With Smithtown East clinging to a 38-37 lead courtesy of a three-pointer by Casey Savino with five minutes left, Riccio nailed two straight three-pointers to push the lead to seven points.
Denis Sullivan, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds for ESM, cut the deficit to 44-43 with a three-pointer with one minute left. But then Ingarozza passed out of a double-team down low and found Riccio, who buried his third three of the quarter.
There were seven lead changes, and ESM, behind Sullivan and Chris Goncalves' eight points and 15 rebounds, led throughout the second half until Savino's three-pointer.
"The game is never over until the final buzzer sounds,'' Riccio said. "You got to fight to the end, and the thing about our team is we never give up.''
Just as Ingarozza instructed.
"I try my best to be a leader for this team,'' Ingarozza said. "I enjoy being positive for my teammates vocally, and I try to be the head of the dragon.''